Airline Executives Warn Air Traffic Control Problems Will Plague Industry for ‘Years’

The Air Traffic Control staffing shortage won't be solved anytime soon, according to air travel executives.

<p>stellalevi/Getty Images</p>

stellalevi/Getty Images

Air traffic control staff shortages have plagued the air industry all summer, and now airline executives are warning travelers it could take years to fix.

”It will take five to seven years [of hiring] to break even if all goes well,” said Nick Calio, the CEO for Airlines for America, a group which represents major carriers across the country, told CNN on Tuesday. “Do we need five to seven years of further disruption on a daily basis? I don’t think so.”

This summer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the Federal Aviation Administration was short about 3,000 air traffic control employees. And Airlines for America has warned a New York-area facility was working while only 54 percent staffed.

All that has led to a cacophony of issues that resulted in the FAA agreeing to extend a waiver that allowed airlines to cut back on service from New York City-area airports.

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes told Reuters the air traffic control issues are creating scheduling uncertainty. Hayes said even if the FAA doubles its hiring numbers "it would still take us five years to catch up."

"In the short to medium term we have to reduce flights in very impacted airports because the system can't cope with the number of flights today," Hayes said. "We're selling flights that we know we won't be able to operate because of ATC challenges."

Currently, the wire service noted the FAA has 10,700 certified controllers, which is a slight increase from 2022 when there were 10,578, but 10 percent lower compared to 2012.

For its part, United Airlines cut back on flights from its Newark hub this summer to avoid prolonged flight disruptions, dropping down to about 390 flights per day compared to the 435 flights it flew daily pre-pandemic.

However, in a statement to Travel + Leisure, the FAA said they are "working create a robust pipeline of skilled and diverse professionals coming into the aviation workforce. The agency is also taking action to reduce the air traffic controller training backlog that COVID created."

The agency also noted they hired 1,500 controllers this year and will hire 1,800 next year.

Beyond the New York City area, several other airlines have also cut back on midweek service mainly in an effort to meet demand, including Southwest Airlines, Allegiant Airlines, and Frontier Airlines.

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